First Responder Schemes are made up of volunteers who live or work within a community or village and have been trained to attend certain 999 calls in support of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service. They are able to provide first aid, including oxygen therapy and cardiac defibrillation if required, until an ambulance arrives. The ambulance will already be on its way and First Responders can make a life-saving contribution until they arrive.
Why are First Responders Needed
Most people can survive cardiac arrest if a particular sequence of events occurs as rapidly as possible. This sequence is:
- Recognition of early warning signs
- Activation of the emergency medical system
- Basic Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
- Intravenous administration of medicines
The sequence is often simplified as the ‘Chain of Survival’:
- Early access
- Early CPR
- Early defibrillation
- Early advanced care
First Responders are expected to impact on the first three links of the ‘chain’. In doing this, it has been shown that survival rates for out of hospital cardiac arrests can increase 2 or 3 fold. This is the primary purpose of First Responder Schemes.
The actions of First Responders can result in improvement and reassurance for patients suffering from other conditions as well as providing valuable assistance and information for attending ambulance crews.
Where are First Responder Teams Established?
First Responder Schemes are typically introduced in isolated communities where it is challenging for the ambulance service to arrive on scene within the critical 8 minutes, usually rural parts of the Northern Ireland.
It is unlikely that a First Responder Scheme would be necessary close to any of our 46 stations or deployment points.
There needs to be some history of emergency calls occurring in a particular location for interest in the scheme to be sustained.
First Responder Schemes require a significant commitment on the part of the volunteers. This should not be underestimated – members of the scheme will have to be on duty either at all times or at times specified in agreement with the NIAS. Consequently any proposed First Responder Scheme should have enough volunteers to maintain cover without over-burdening individuals.
Who Will Be Running Each First Responder Team?
The group of people volunteering for the scheme will be responsible for their area. Motivated members who want to improve conditions in their local community will often become organisers or undertake additional duties in regard to committee roles and fund-raising.
There is generally a requirement for a lead person, champion, chairperson or co-ordinator that will hold the group together and give direction. It is preferred that this person acts as the main liaison with NIAS on behalf of the group. Any other duties or roles required by a voluntary group association will be undertaken by individual responders.
These schemes are completely voluntary; they are not funded by NIAS. Most First Responder Schemes are set up as charities or trusts and it is encouraged that they affiliate themselves with another voluntary service. An example of this affiliation is the St John Ambulance Neighbourhood First Responder Schemes. There are advantages to such a connection, such as support for organisation, infrastructure, equipment procurement and more.
What Types of Incidents are First Responders Asked to Attend?
Ambulance Emergency Calls are all placed into categories, A, B and C, depending on the level of response required:
- Category A are considered life-threatening emergencies
- Category B are considered non-life-threatening emergencies
- Category C are considered neither life-threatening or and emergency
First Responders would usually be asked to attend Category A calls, with some Category B. Some examples of calls considered suitable for First Responders are:
- Patients suffering chest pain, believed to be cardiac in origin, and who are at risk of cardiac arrest
- Patients who are in cardiac arrest
- Patients who are unconscious from an unknown origin
- Patients who are choking
- Patients who are unconscious or collapsed following immersion
First Responders are not asked to attend trauma calls, such as Road Traffic Collisions or any known violent or dangerous situations.
Do First Responders Drive Like The Emergency Services?
No. First Responders must drive safely and comply with all Road Traffic Act regulations, including not breaking the speed limit. There are no exceptions and any failure to follow the regulations may lead to prosecution. Under no circumstances are First Responders authorised to use blue or green flashing lights.
Who Can Become A First Reponder?
Community First Responders can be volunteers from a number of different sources, typically:
- Lay members of the public
- Off-duty ambulance staff
- Other emergency services staff
Previous experience of first aid training and medical knowledge is not necessary. Training is provided prior to a group of First Responders being utilised by NIAS.
How Do I Find Out More?
For more details of your local group or any other information please contact the NIAS First Responder Co-ordinator:
Community Resuscitation Lead
NI Ambulance Service